Posts Tagged ‘grain prices’

Henry III’s Fine Rolls Blog Sunday 11 November to Saturday 17 November 1257

Friday, November 23rd, 2012

King Henry spent the first part of this week at Windsor, and then moved to Guildford before returning to Westminster at the end of the month.   In this week,  there is an entry on the fine rolls which foreshadows the terrible famine which was to sweep England in the summer of 1258.  By November, the failure of the 1257 harvest had long been clear. Grain prices were already more than double their normal level, and everyone knew that worse was to come.   The three serjeants in the garrison of  Windsor castle evidently complained to the king about the difficulties this was causing  them, all the more so because at this time a block had been placed on their wages.  This emerges in the concession the king made to them on Thursday 15 November after he arrived at  Guildford (no.60 in the translation and three from the bottom).

The concession was made on account of the ‘caritudo’ of the current year,  ‘caritudo’ here meaning  ‘dearth’, and hence ‘dearness’ in the sense of  high prices.  Because of this,  Henry said he would allow the serjeants a delay till the following Michalemas (or longer if he thought it expedient) in repaying a debt which they owed the exchequer. The debt was for 150s owed for a prest, that is a loan, made to the serjeants in advance of their wages when the king was in Gascony in 1253-1254.  The exchequer was also now to pay them the arrears of their wages which had been withheld because they had not paid the debt.  Each of the serjeants received a wage of 6d a day, where 1.5 pennies a day was the pay at this time of a labourer working on Westminster abbey.  Provided they could unlock their wages, the serjeants  would probably be alright in the famine.  Many people were much less well off.  By the spring of 1258, thousands who had flocked to London in search of food were dying of starvation.  In the counties the same situation prevailed. Indeed, so many were dying that the government allowed bodies to be buried without view of the coroners. The great famine provided the context for the political revolution of 1258.